Ken Dodd lectured scholars on Shakespeare. Did he? No, Doddy

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The Independent Online

But according to the Bard of Knotty Ash, the pair share a common comic lineage stretching over four centuries. Dodd made the claim for shared comedy roots yesterday as he made an unlikelyone-off appearance as a Shakespeare analyst at the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The 77-year-old comedian, himself revered as a genius of manipulating the English language to comic effect, told a 400-strong audience that comedians have effectively been recycling the same material since the Elizabethan era.

Presenting a lecture on comparisons between Tudor ribticklers and present-day humour, Dodd said: "The age-old topics that William joked about are still the subject of humour today.

"It's about men and women and thingy, you know, sex, and kings and queens and politicians and bishops. It's all the same. Mind you he wasn't a gag man, William. Me, I'm an eyes and teeth man. But he had wonderful characters. He was absolutely amazing, supernatural."

The one-day-only appearance of one of the nation's more mercurial cultural treasures as a champion of the Bard was part of the RSC's Laugh In, a four-day festival to explore Shakespeare's approach to comedy.

Sitting at a table on the main stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre before an audience of 500, Dodd admitted to feeling nervous after being asked to give his wit and wisdom on a historic figure who has been pored over by academics and literary greats. But, he added: "Unlike me, they haven't had to play audiences in Wolverhampton or Blackpool, or entertain stag nights in Coventry."

The comedian, whose ability to captivate his audiences for up to five hours at a time gave added piquancy to the title of his lecture, A Fellow of Infinite Jest, reminisced about his first-hand experience of performing Shakespeare.

He played Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the Liverpool Empire in 1971 and then a ghostly cameo as Yorick in Kenneth Branagh's 1996 version of Hamlet. Dodd said: "It was a small part, but enough to get in a forsooth or two."

The self-styled "tickle inspector", one of the last of the current performers blooded in the cabaret halls of the 1950s, also revealed he had borrowed the idea for his famous stick from the Tudor jesters who carried a pig bladder on a stick.

Dodd, who said that he had spent several weeks reading heavy tomes on Shakespeare to prepare for his lecture yesterday, added that although the Bard was no stand-up comedian, he would have appreciated the nomadic existence of modern humorists, whose tours of venues were akin to Elizabethan strolling players.

The Master of the Chuckle Muscle then proved he was in a mischievous mood worthy of any Shakespearean clown. After suggesting that the Tory leadership candidate Kenneth Clarke would be ideal to play Falstaff, and the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, would make a perfect Malvolio, he left the stage by saying: "Tatty bye forsooth."

Academics agreed that despite their differing performance styles, from one-man show to theatrical ensemble, Dodd was right to point out the common themes between himself and Shakespeare. Carol Rutter, professor of English at Warwick University, said: "Ken is wrong to say that Shakespeare wasn't a gag man - he wrote some of the best one-liners in the language.''

He added: "But Ken is right in saying that the themes are the same - they are about being human and mortality. In that way the comedy of both of them is serious stuff."